I don’t know how I managed to make it to 42 years of age without losing a pet. I was never an animal lover, believe it or not. It wasn’t until we adopted two little shelter kittens, 11 years ago, that I fell head over heels in love with all of the furry creatures in the world.

I had been expecting Princess, our little tabby cat, to go for a while. She was sort of wasting away…down to about 2.5 pounds, but the vet agreed that she was actually pretty healthy. She suggested we should just enjoy every day until Princess told us it was time for her to go.

And on the night she began to tell me, I just understood and knew. I snuggled her up next to me in her heated bed. I kept my hand on her belly all night, counting how many times she was breathing each minute. Sometimes I would drift off, then wake in a start, panicked that she had left, but she was still there. Quiet and curled up. I found myself wishing she would look up, scratch me and run off, as she often did when she felt smothered by my affection.

Nothing, though could prepare me for the emptiness I felt when I picked her up the next morning and she took a deep sigh and crossed the bridge. I held that furry little body, shaking uncontrollably and soaking her face in my tears.

Then the hard part – waking up Macie and Avree who were asleep in bed, sisters curled up together in their fear of losing her. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything harder watching them sob, me holding their kitten and their grief, allowing them to feel that pain. They didn’t remember life much before her. At 5 and 7 years old, they had picked her out and she was a fixture in their lives…under their feet, in their beds, even dipping her head under a running faucet to drink and accidentally getting spit on with toothpaste. Princess had turned us all, irrevocably, into crazy cat ladies.

I took Avree on a hike later that morning and we both agreed that we could hardly walk – that our heaviness felt so physical. She said, “Mom, I don’t understand how I can feel so empty and so heavy at the same time.” The emptiness IS heavy.

The “fix-it-mommy” part of me wanted to go home and sell the remaining cat, 3 dogs, 10 chickens and 3 horses before they could hurt us. But I know that our pets give so much to us, unconditionally, while asking very little in return.

They give us attention.

They give us affection.

They give us physical comfort.

They are the only ones who we can share our homes with, no matter how hard our day has been.

And they give us the ability to face loss, working through it. When we lose them, we begin to realize that the loss is only a very small part of the immense body of life we’ve shared together.

Mary Oliver says, “We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two housed as they are in the same body.”